Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Sneak attack on states' rights in new fuel economy plan, and more...

As the dog days of summer wind to a close, a theme continues to evolve: the tension between state governments (many of which are trying to make progress on the environment) and the federal government, which appears to put top priority on trying to shield big special-interest companies from having to do much. A few thoughts and examples on this, below.

SNEAK ATTACK ON STATES’ RIGHTS: Yesterday’s federal proposal for new fuel economy standards was so pitifully bad that it’s hard to know where to start: with oil prices near record levels and imports continuing to surge, the government comes out with a plan aimed at helping the so-called “Big Three” sell more of their biggest gas-guzzling SUVs. (Which, coincidentally, promote global warming.) It shows that this government is really not serious about becoming less dependent on foreign oil. Some might call it unpatriotic. Our friends with Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists and Environmental Defense have put out some critiques of this almost-laughable plan, so we won’t be redundant.

However, little attention (aside from a brief note in the New York Times) has been paid to one nefarious part of this Big Three Protection Plan – a provision aimed at blocking California and other states from moving ahead with plans to limit global warming pollution from motor vehicles. States throughout the Northeast and west coast are moving to adopt these standards because the federal government has been so inept and recalcitrant. (There was an excellent editorial on this subject in last Sunday’s New York Times.) The new Bush administration says “A state law that seeks to reduce motor vehicle carbon dioxide emissions is both expressly and impliedly preempted.” (See more on the specific language, below.) This is a real sneak attack on states’ rights. And it is being done just to protect the big car companies.

NORTHEASTERN STATES MOVING FORWARD ON GLOBAL WARMING CONTROLS: In a related matter, today’s New York Times reports that Northeastern states have reached preliminary agreement on a plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions in the region. As in the case with motor vehicles, this is happening because of a failure of federal policy. Needless to say, an effective national program would be a much better idea. But it may take this kind of regional effort to move the ball forward.

THE RETURN OF CLEAR SKIES? Another point of federal-state tension is just over the horizon, as the Bush Administration revs up another effort to sell its so-called “Clear Skies” plan to the Congress (which will have more time on its hands having passed energy and transportation legislation). The EPA is working on a new analysis that it hopes will be useful in pulling one or two Democrats. (Senators Tom Carper of Delaware and Max Baucus of Montana are the key targets.) Stay tuned for more as Congress resumes action next month.

***

From the proposed new fuel economy rules:

"We reaffirm our view that a state may not impose a legal requirement relating to fuel economy, whether by statute, regulation or otherwise, that conflicts with this rule. A state law that seeks to reduce motor vehicle carbon dioxide emissions is both expressly and impliedly preempted. "Our statute contains a broad preemption provision making clear the need for a uniform, federal system: 'When an average fuel economy standard prescribed under this chapter is in effect, a State or a political subdivision of a State may not adopt or enforce a law or regulation related to fuel economy standards or average fuel economy standards for automobiles covered by an average fuel economy standard under this chapter.' 49 U.S.C. 32919(a). Since the way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is to improve fuel economy, a state regulation seeking to reduce those emissions is a 'regulation related to fuel economy standards or average fuel economy standards.' "Further, such a regulation would be impliedly preempted, as it would interfere with our implementation of the CAFE statute. For example, it would interfere the careful balancing of various statutory factors and other related considerations, as contemplated in the conference report on EPCA, we must do in order to establish average fuel economy standards at the maximum feasible level. It would also interfere with our effort to reform CAFE so to achieve higher fuel savings, while reducing the risk of adverse economic and safety consequences." (From pages 150-151 of the PDF of the rule)

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